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By Guy Lelouch
Published on Jun 03, 2022
Edited by Daniel Zeevi

The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers several different social programs that provide financial benefits. They have social security office locations around the country to help people understand their options regarding social security benefits and related programs. It’s not always easy to figure out which of these programs is right for you. One of the most common Social Security questions is: what’s the difference between SSI and SSDI?

SSI and SSDI are similar programs that help people who are unable to make a living. However, there are a few key differences that are important to know if you plan to apply. This short guide will lay out all the information you need.

The basics of SSI vs SSDI

SSI ultimately stands for Supplemental Security Income. So, what is supplemental security income, exactly? SSI is a social program that provides monthly cash benefits to people in the following demographics:

  • Over the age of 65
  • Disabled or blind
  • People with severely limited income

Although this supplemental income program is administered by the SSA, its funding does not come from Social Security taxes. Instead, SSI is funded directly by the U.S. Treasury.

SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. This program also provides a monthly cash benefit to people with disabilities. While SSI is based more on financial need, SSDI is available only to people who have medical conditions that prohibit them from earning a living. Funding for SSDI comes from Social Security taxes. For that reason, people who want to qualify for SSDI must have sufficient work experience to be eligible. SSI has no work requirement.

SSI vs SSDI: What are the benefits?

Both SSI and SSDI disability benefits provide individuals and families with a monthly cash payment.

For SSI, the maximum amount that an individual can be awarded is $783 per month. A couple can receive up to $1,175 per month in SSI disability benefits.

The cash benefit of SSDI is typically more than that of SSI. Most people are awarded somewhere between $800-$1,800 per month, with the average amount in 2020 being $1,258. However, it is possible to be awarded as much as $3,011 per month in 2020.  

For both SSI and SSDI, the maximum award amount usually changes every year based on inflation, cost of living, and other data.

Can I be eligible for both SSI and SSDI?  

In many cases, if you are eligible for SSI and SSDI, you may also be eligible for other benefit programs. In fact, people who receive SSDI are often able to collect SSI disability benefits, too. This is because SSI eligibility is based on financial need and an impairing medical condition, much like SSDI. Therefore, if the eligibility requirements are met for SSDI benefits, you may likely meet the requirements for certain SSI disability benefits.  

However, the reverse is not always true: people who receive SSI benefits may not meet all the conditions for SSDI. This is because, unlike SSI, SSDI applications take your previous work experience into account. You have to be a qualified worker who has contributed to Social Security payroll taxes through your job for a certain number of years.  

The number of years you need to have worked prior in order to qualify for SSDI benefits is based on your age at the time you became disabled. Here is how that number of years breaks down for different age groups:

  • If you become disabled at age 24 or earlier – you need to have worked 1.5 years within the 3 years prior to your disability
  • If you become disabled at age 25 – you need to have worked 2 years within the 4 years prior to your disability  
  • If you become disabled at age 26 – you need to have worked 2.5 years within the 5 years prior to your disability  
  • If you become disabled at age 27 – you need to have worked 3 years within the 6 years prior to your disability  
  • If you become disabled at age 28 – you need to have worked 3.5 years within the 7 years prior to your disability  
  • If you become disabled at age 29 – you need to have worked 4 years within the 8 years prior to your disability
  • If you become disabled at age 30 – you need to have worked 4.5 years within the 9 years prior to your disability  
  • If you become disabled at age 31 or later – you need to have worked 5 years within the 10 years prior to your disability  

What is the difference between SSI and SSDI for receiving Medicare?

An SSDI recipient may be eligible for Medicare. Medicare is a government health insurance program that helps low-income, disabled, and elderly citizens pay for healthcare expenses like prescription medication and hospital bills.

If you receive SSDI benefits, you can become eligible for Medicare only after two full years of being in the program.


If you are eligible to receive SSI benefits, you may not necessarily be able to qualify for Medicare. However, you may be able to qualify for Medicaid. Whereas Medicare is a federal program available to elderly and disabled individuals regardless of income, Medicaid is a state and federal program specifically for very low-income people.  

You may be able to get on Medicaid as soon as you apply for SSI. In fact, 33 U.S. states use the SSI application as the Medicaid application. Other states and territories have a separate application for the two programs, but use the same criteria to determine eligibility for both SSI and Medicaid.

Other benefits of SSI and SSDI

Both SSI and SSDI recipients are eligible to enroll in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Over 9.5 million Americans use SNAP benefits to help pay for groceries. It is the largest federal nutrition program in the country. Hundreds of thousands of grocery stores across the nation are authorized to accept SNAP benefits.  

SSI vs SSDI: Application requirements

An important component of learning how to apply for SSI and SSDI are the application requirements. SSI and SSDI benefits are meant to provide aid for at-risk people who are in need. Therefore, your income must be severely limited in order to qualify. For SSDI, applicants must earn less than $1,070 per month.  

To qualify for the SSI program, individual SSI applicants must earn less than $783 per month, and couples must earn less than $1,175 per month. SSI applications also take your other financial resources into account.

These resources include:

  • Cash savings
  • Stocks
  • Bonds  
  • Property  

There are some financial assets that the SSA does not include when going over your countable resources. Property such as the home you reside in and a car that you depend on for transportation will not factor into your SSI application.

SSI vs SSDI: Disability

In most cases, neither SSI nor SSDI are awarded for short-term disabilities. Your impairing medical condition must last at least one year, or lead to your death, in order to be eligible for benefits.

The Blue book

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of impairing conditions—often referred to as the Blue Book—that are eligible to qualify for benefits. Both SSI and SSDI applications use the Blue Book to determine if your medical condition meets the criteria to be considered a disability. It’s important to keep in mind that the SSA’s definition of disability may not be the same as your definition or your doctor’s definition.

Some of the most common conditions that get approved for SSI or SSDI include:

  • Chronic heart failure
  • Affective disorders, such as Bipolar Disorder
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Autism and other developmental disorders


Regardless of your condition, you will be asked to provide ample medical evidence to support your claim. When applying for either SSI or SSDI with a disability, you should be prepared to provide:  

  • The names, phone numbers, and addresses of your doctors
  • A list of the hospitals where you have been treated
  • A list of the prescription medications you take, and your dosages  
  • The names, phone numbers, and addresses of any case workers you have met with
  • Any laboratory test results or other medical documents you have  

How to apply for SSI and SSDI

Both SSI and SSDI applications are processed by the SSA. You can apply online, by mail, or you can go in person at one of your local SSA offices. The SSA urges applicants who prefer to apply in person to schedule an appointment ahead of time. You can do so by calling the SSA’s toll-free phone number: 1-800-772-1213.

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Guy Lelouch
About the author
Guy Lelouch, founder and CEO of GovPlus, drives government digital transformation with his expertise in technology and public policy by creating efficient, transparent, and user-friendly services.

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